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Texas reps should lead on new NAFTA

December 3, 2018

Members of Congress will soon begin studying the 1,800-page agreement that would replace NAFTA, and we wish them good luck with that dreary holiday read. If the new agreement is worth supporting — and it’s probably is better than nothing — House and Senate members from Texas should take the lead in getting it approved. Why Texas? Because our state will be affected by this treaty more than virtually any other.

No single state has large volumes of trade with Canada, even though the nation as a whole does. And while our entire country also has a great deal of trade with Mexico, Texas has a significant amount of cross-border commerce that must continue in one form or another.

About 40 percent our state’s oil and gas exports go to Mexico and Canada. Oil and gas companies along the Gulf Coast are preparing to invest billions to develop Mexico’s oil fields. Crude oil from Canada is even handled by refineries in Port Arthur and Houston, and more will head down here if the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta is ever completed. After NAFTA was signed, Texas farmers and ranchers started selling lots of livestock and produce in Mexico. Many border towns like El Paso, Laredo and Brownsville see vast crowds of Mexican shoppers.

That trade supports a lot of jobs in Texas and provides bargain products for Texas consumers. Clearly, Texas would be harmed if commerce with Mexico (and Canada) were disrupted. The new treaty, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, would ensure that it continues.

Most analysts say it’s not dramatically different from the NAFTA it is replacing, though it does reflect President Donald Trump’s concerns about making sure the trade is fair to all parties. If the new treaty is worthwhile, influential senators like our John Cornyn and Ted Cruz could help it get through that chamber. Local House members Randy Weber and Brian Babin should be keen to protect the four major refineries and two public ports in this region that depend heavily on international trade.

But getting this new treaty through Congress will not be easy. Many Democrats are suspicious of trade agreements and want to protect American industries. Some Republicans are coming around to this viewpoint even though their party has traditionally supported free trade and opposed tariffs. The new treaty also needs a yes or no verdict, without the possibility of changes or additions.

The challenge is clear, and Congress should step up to it. Some observers think the U.S. economy could start to cool off in 2019. Strong trade with Canada and Mexico will help avoid that.

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